If you’re one of the many people considering a job or career change at the moment, it’s important to understand what you have to offer a charity—whether you currently work in the sector or not. So many of us end up in the wrong jobs because we’re just not clear on what we can bring to an employer. And before you know it your career is something it feels like someone else is in charge of, when you’re the one who’s meant to be guiding it. So how do you work out what you can offer the charity sector?
I remember my English teacher telling me to pause at the beginning of an exam to properly read the questions, create a plan and then get writing. That’s what I’m asking you to do. Applying for a job can be very anxiety-inducing and it can be tempting to leap into action with applications and interviews. However, pausing to properly assess your skills and achievements will empower you to tell employers what you can do for them with confidence.
A major turning point in my career was taking the time to acknowledge what I was good (and not so good!) at. There are three major questions you can ask yourself to think about what you have to offer:
This sounds like an easy question to answer but, in my experience, it can be a very intimidating one. I’d suggest not thinking about the world of work, but simply focusing on what you enjoy doing in general in your life—so even if you don’t have much work experience you’ll have things to consider. Do you enjoy spending time with people or spending time alone? Some roles will heavily feature one or the other. Do you really enjoy being creative or do you prefer to follow given processes? Is there a hobby like writing or drawing that could be incorporated in a job?
Too often we limit what’s possible from our work-life, so I’d encourage you to be as open as you can when answering this.
Are you the friend people always come to for advice? Some jobs such as HR or Communications (my field) rely heavily on being a skilled communicator who others feel comfortable talking to. Other jobs are very focused on behind the scenes coordination of systems like Salesforce, e.g. CRM Officers. There’s no wrong or right answer, being happy in a job is about finding the right one for you so try to catch any judgements about what you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ be good at.
Believe me, I understand how hard it can be to celebrate yourself. I was certainly brought up to believe that it was arrogant to talk about what you’d done well or to take the credit for something, even if it was a project you’d put everything into! But the thing I’ve learnt during my career is that it is exactly that—my career. If I wasn’t going to be my own best advocate and cheerleader then I couldn’t expect anyone else to be. The most transformative change in my approach to my career has been accepting that I’m the one responsible for it!
So it’s down to you to list all of your greatest accomplishments (work and non-work related). These can become answers to those dreaded ‘Can you tell me about a time when…’ interview questions. And instead of staring blankly back at the panel you can proclaim, ‘Yes I can tell you about such a time and here I go!’ But they are mostly for you to know what you have done. They will enable you to write an application and walk into an interview knowing you do have something valuable to offer the charity sector—which everyone does!
Once you’ve answered these questions you can begin to look at jobs with a much more discerning eye, being aware of what you enjoy doing, the skills others recognise in you and your proudest achievements.
Lydia Brita has worked in the charity sector for nearly a decade, starting off as a volunteer. She's now Communications Officer at STEP (the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), a global professional body. Her background is in building communities, both online and offline through effective communication strategies, social media and copywriting.